University of ArizonaNorton School of Family and Consumer Sciences

Melissa A. Barnett, Ph.D.

Fitch Nesbitt Associate Professor
Family Studies and Human Development
650 N Park Ave
Tucson, Arizona 85721-0078
(520) 621-4738

My research is motivated by my experiences as an elementary school teacher in an economically disadvantaged community in New Orleans. My students and their families inspired me to conduct research focused on informing the development of interventions and policies to support positive child development in high-risk, low-income communities. In particular, I was struck by the resilient outcomes of some students who thrived despite the odds, and by the extensive involvement of multiple family members in the lives of young children. My goal is to understand how to leverage these strengths to conduct research to inform policy and program development that ultimately improves the life chances of caregivers and young children from economically disadvantaged communities. In addition, I am interested in understanding how culture shapes parenting, family relationships, and child development.

***I will be accepting graduate students for Fall 2017 admission.***


Areas of expertise: 
  • Family relationships and early childhood development
  • Poverty and social-emotional development
  • Sociocultural influences on parenting
  • Grandparent-grandchild relationships
  • Extended family relationships
Research Focus: 

Broadly, my research program considers how family relationships are shaped by individual characteristics and larger cultural and socioeconomic contexts to influence parental well-being, parenting and coparenting behaviors, and early childhood social and emotional development. My focus is on identification of family strengths among disadvantaged families.

Specifically, my research focuses on understanding how adults, including parents, support network members and grandmothers, influence young children directly through interactions with children, and indirectly through relationships with each other. Considering other family members or adults who play significant support and caregiving roles is especially relevant to child development in disadvantaged and ethnic minority communities.



Current Projects: 
  • Principal Investigator, Child Care Factors that Influence Parental Engagement: Understanding Longitudinal Pathways to Children’s School Readiness. Funded by the Administration for Children and Families. Collaborators: Christina Cutshaw, Ann Mastergeorge


  • Principal Investigator, Different Forms of Family Instability: Key Mechanisms Linking Family Strengthening Interventions, Family Functioning and Child Wellbeing. Funded by the Administration for Children and Families: Secondary Analyses of Strengthening Families Datasets. Collaborator: Melissa Curran
Subjects Taught: 
  • Infant and Child Development (undergraduate)
  • Problems in Child and Adolescent Development (undergraduate)
  • Theories of Human Development (graduate)
  • Parent-Child Relationships (graduate)
Select Publications: 

Please contact Dr. Melissa Barnett if you are unable to locate one of the publications listed below. Please see the CV for a complete list of publications.

Barnett, M.A., Mortensen, J. & Gonzalez, H. (in press).  Grandmother involvement and maternal psychological distress among Mexican origin families with young children. Journal of Family Issues.

Barnett, M.A. & Scaramella, L.V. (2015). Interactive influences of child gender and fear reactivity and mothers’ parenting on young children’s behavior problems. Development & Psychopathology, 27, 1179-1190.

Barnett, M.A., Cabeza de Baca, T., Jordan, A., Tilley, E. & Ellis, B.J. (2015).  Associations among parenting support, maternal parenting efficacy, and maternal depressive symptoms.  Child & Youth Care Forum, 44, 1-15, 17-32

Barnett, M.A., Mills-Koonce, W.R., Gustafsson, H.C., Cox, M. & Family Life Project Key Investigators (2012).  Mother-grandmother conflict, negative parenting, and young children’s social development in multigenerational families.  Family Relations, 61, 864-877.


Tel: Main Office 520.621.1075 Norton School Student Services 520.621.1295
Mailing Address: 650 N. Park Ave Tucson, Arizona 85721-0078 (Map to McClelland Park)
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